Paul is telling the people of Athens about what he found and whom they had been worshiping without knowing who He was. This is a great story from Paul’s experience.
Acts 17:23-34 Addressing the Areopagus
22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:
TO THE UNKNOWN GOD
Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: 24 God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. 30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” 33 So Paul departed from among them. 34 However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
Commentary: 17:23. The Athenians, who feared they might overlook venerating some deity they did not know about, dedicated an altar to an unknown god. When Paul referred to this, he did not emphasize the altar but their ignorance of the true God.
17:24. Because God made everything, He is supreme over all—the Lord of heaven and earth (cf. 14:15; cf. Ps. 24:1). Such a great God does not live in humanly constructed temples, as the Athenians assumed their Greek gods did (cf. Stephen’s words in Acts 7:48-50).
17:25. God is above human temples, but He is also self-sufficient and is not sustained by human provisions. This truth would appeal to the Epicureans who believed that what god or gods existed were above human events.
The last part of the verse, dealing with God’s providing people with life (cf. v. 28) and material needs (cf. 14:17), suited the Stoic philosophy of aligning their lives with the “Purpose” of the Cosmos. Paul was thus beginning where his listeners were and was leading them from their inadequate concepts of the truth.
17:26. From one man refers back to Adam. This would be a blow to Athenian pride; they were sourced in the same original Creation as everyone else! One purpose of this Creation was to populate the planet (Gen. 1:28).
This sovereign God has omnipotently decreed the history (the times) and boundaries (the exact places) for the nations (cf. Deut. 32:8). Greece was not the only nation on earth!
17:27. One of God’s purposes in revealing Himself in Creation and history is that people would seek Him (cf. Rom. 1:19-20). Though sovereign (Acts 17:24), He is also immanent and not so far removed that He cannot be found.
17:28. To buttress his point Paul apparently quoted from Epimenides, the Cretan poet (whom Paul also quoted later in Titus 1:12): For in Him we live (cf. Acts 17:25), and move, and have our being. Also Paul quoted the poet Aratus, from Paul’s homeland Cilicia: We are His offspring. This second quotation was from Aratus’ work Phainomena. All people—Athenians along with all others—are God’s offspring, not in the sense that they are all His redeemed children or in the sense that they all possess an element of deity, but in the sense that they are created by God and receive their very life and breath from Him (v. 25). The Athenians’ very creation and continued existence depended on this one God whom they did not know! No such claim could ever be made of any of the scores of false gods worshiped by the Greeks.
17:29. The conclusion is inevitable: since humans have been created by God, the divine Being, He cannot possibly be in the form of an idol, an image conceived and constructed by man (cf. Rom. 1:22-23). (“Divine being” translates theion, lit., “divine nature,” used frequently in classical GR., but in the NT only here and in 2 Peter 1:3-4). This would be a revolutionary concept to the Athenians, whose city was “full of idols” (Acts 17:16) and “objects of worship” (v. 23).
17:30. God overlooked human ignorance revealed in idol-making, that is, He was patient. Though people are under His wrath (Rom. 1:18) and are without excuse because of natural revelation (Rom. 1:19-20), God “in His forbearance (anochē, holding back, delay¯) left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (Rom. 3:25). This parallels Acts 14:16, “In the past, He let all nations go their way” (cf. comments there). All through time the Gentiles were responsible for the general revelation given to them; now with the worldwide proclamation of the gospel, the Gentiles are also responsible to special revelation. That response is to obey God’s command to repent of their sins.
17:31. At this point Paul introduced a distinctively Christian viewpoint. His reference to the Man clearly looks to Daniel 7:13-14 which speaks of the Son of Man. This One, appointed by God the Father, will judge the world with justice (cf. John 5:22). The authentication of Christ’s person and work was His resurrection. Here again the resurrection of Jesus was preached. The idea of resurrection (cf. Acts 17:18, 32) was incompatible with Greek philosophy. The Greeks wanted to get rid of their bodies, not take them on again! A personal judgment was also unpalatable to Greeks. The gospel message struck at the center of the Athenians’ needs.
Interestingly Paul (vv. 30-31) discussed the topics of sin (“to repent”), righteousness (“justice”), and judgment (“He will judge”), the same areas in which Jesus said the Holy Spirit would convict people (John 16:5-11).
17:32-34. To a Greek it was nonsense to believe a dead man could be raised from the grave to live forever, so some of them sneered. Others with more discretion said they wanted to hear Paul again on this subject. As a result a few men became followers of Paul and believed, including even Dionysius, an Areopagus member (i.e., a council member; cf. comments on v. 19), and a woman named Damaris. Other women converts in Acts include Lydia (16:14-15), a few prominent women in Thessalonica (17:4), and a number of prominent Greek women in Berea (v. 12).
Was Paul’s ministry at Athens a failure? This is difficult to assess. There is no record of a church being founded in Athens. Paul later referred to the household of Stephanas (1 Cor. 16:15) in Corinth as “the first converts” (lit., “firstfruits”) of Achaia. (Athens was in Achaia.) How could this be if some were converted in Athens, as Acts 17:34 asserts? Probably the solution is found in thinking of Stephanas as the firstfruits “of a church” in Achaia. Also possibly the term “firstfruits” can be used of more than one person.
If no church was begun in Athens, the failure was not in Paul’s message or method but in the hardness of the Athenians’ hearts.
What is the message: The message here is God lives and is all around us. He is Lord of Heaven. He does not dwell in temples made with hands (men’s hands) as if He needed anything from anyone since He gives life, breath and all things to men. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings (lands), so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope (reach out) for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. He lives in and around us. For those of us who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior He lives within us. For those who have not yet accepted Him, He lives around us and knows our every thought, the things we do, the things we did not do, and the things that we should have done.
Please for the sake of your spiritual life on earth and after death, read, learn and study about the God who created you, the God who can take your life and the God who will judge you when His time comes for judging those who will be a child of God and those who will go to the Lake of Burning Fire forever. That’s right, there is no escaping judgment by dying. Everyone will receive a new body, they will be judged, some will go to heaven and some will go to a place known as Hell. It’s still your choice for as long as you are alive on earth or before Jesus comes for His church (all believers). Please consider accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior for your sake and your family’s.
Christianity is still what the first Christians thought it was—fellowship with a living Lord who is identical with the Jesus of the Gospels. The Jesus of the Gospels can still be your hero, and he is your Savior.
You will find that if you show your love, honor, and devotion to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, you will receive their love back so many different ways now and for eternity.
God is testing us every day and has given us the right to make our own choices. Do you know which ones are the right choices in Gods mind?
Fear God, love God, honor God, and trust God with all your heart, mind and soul and you will receive and experience the joy of the promises of God’s blessings in His time.
Prayer: Father in heaven, I praise You for Your Son and the Holy Spirit. I praise You for Your grace in sending Your wisdom about “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD”. Please bless all those who have read this writing for they too are seeking your truth, love, wisdom and understanding. Please open their hearts and minds to your word. Help them learn and understand why they are here on earth and why you won’t them in Your heaven.
May God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit and Christianity be our guiding lights, our safety nets and our inspiration for loving happiness in all of Your kingdom. Father into your hands I commend my spirit. Not my will, but Yours be done. Please come Lord Jesus.
I pray in Jesus sweet name and to His glory through the power of the Holy Spirit,